Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Leap year birding...

Today started quite early at 5.00am when I was woken up by a bird singing very loudly outside. I got up to check it out and it was a Song Thrush sitting in the tree just outside the garden singing his heart out. I never heard bird song so loud and clear before. I spent a good 40 minutes standing in the dark with the window open listening. It was also quite worrying because it was only my first of the year.

Later on the afternoon I headed out for a couple hours. First stop was Ferry point in Dingwall. It was about an hour before high tide and there were plenty of birds about. Good numbers of Redshank with Dunlin mixed in and c30 Oystercatcher. Plenty of Wigeon with some Teal. Lot's of Common, Black-headed and Herring gulls. I headed along the path beside the old canal and there were the usual treecreepers flitting about from trunk to trunk on the broadleaves lining the footpath. Further round were a couple of Curlew, 16 Shelduck and 2 Mute Swans out on the open water. Then all of a sudden out of nowhere a few thousand geese descended on the bay. So many it was hard to count but I estimate 500 Greylag and 2000 Pink-footed. It was quite a spectacle. I tried for almost an hour to find some White-fronted or Bean Geese but they were either absent or I just didn't pick them up. I did see a Greylag with a red neck collar but it was too far away to read it. On the way back to the car I managed by second Song Thrush of the day (and year).

Pink-foots and Greylags

Second stop was the Dingwall business park to check up on the "white-winger" situation. I located the 1st-winter Glaucous but there was no sign of the Iceland gull unfortunately. A couple of interesting crows came close.
Carrion / Hooded hybrid? Comments welcome.
Last stop of the day was Recastle over on the South side of the Black Isle. Plenty of Mallard and Teal in the bay aswell as a pair of Shelduck. Large group of Common and Herring gulls on the water. But the highlight was a group of 6 Pintails including 3 impressive looking drakes. A new species for me and a nice end to the afternoon. Unfortunately I was losing light and they were too far away for any decent pictures. Just as i was leaving 4 Whooper Swans flew over the bay headed towards Beauly.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Feeling human again...

It's been a bit of a lost week really. Spent most of it ill in bed. It all started last Saturday (18th) when we had a decent amount of snow fall at the same time a house party. Drink and cold weather doesn't mix too well and I developed a pretty bad cold which lasted pretty much the whole week. Never had a throat so sore before. The snow didn't even last that long either and it's probably only the second decent amount of snow that had fallen the whole winter.

So not too much of note, still good numbers of Chaffinch in the garden. Numbers of Greenfinch have increased and its nice to here them "singing" again. Siskins and Goldfinch still hanging around. The snowdrops, croci and even the daffodils are all in flower now.

I did get out on Sunday (26th) for a nice walk. Very mild and very different than the previous weekend. I took a trip up to Loch Achility and Torachilty wood with my girlfriend. There were plenty of Blue, Coal, Great and Long-tailed Tit about but not much on the Loch itself, just a pair of mallard and a distant Goldeneye. 3-4 Buzzards and a Red Kite put in an appearance too. Walking back to the car I heard one of my favourite noises of the natural world from one of my favourite birds, the "gronking" calls of two Ravens circling over one of the nearby peaks, my first of the year. Nice to feel human again and get some proper fresh air.

Whilst out in the garden upon returning home a pair of Grey Heron flew over, a bird I haven't seen from the garden before.

I've been playing around with the blog a bit and I'm trying out a few different features such as additional pages. Let me know what you think if you have the time.

Have a good week everyone.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Ups and downs...

The last few days have been very interesting with a mix of frustration, disappointment and surprise thrown in. Let's start with the frustration...

Last Saturday (11th) I managed to get out with the Highland Ringing Group. I have been interested in ringing for quite some time and had been trying to get out with the group for awhile but weather made it not possible until last Saturday. I had been put in contact with Brian Etheridge via the BTO ringing page who is a member of the group.

The group was making a special visit out to the Lossiemouth area as part of a long-term study on Purple Sandpipers. The idea was to target some already sussed out roost sites in hope of capturing and ringing individuals and also fitting geo-locators on some of them. I met Brian and a few other members at the big Tesco carpark in Inverness. Introductions were made as we headed towards Lossiemouth. The first potential area was at Lossiemouth harbour but unfortunately there was not enough signs of use so we moved on. There was however a pod of dolphins spotted off shore. We headed further along the coast to Buckie. The first site at Buckie was also deemed not worth it but at the second it was decided it was worth a go. The canon net was setup and whilst we waited for high tide we ate lunch and checked a few other spots. Brian, Ron and I headed back to the harbour at Portgordon. There were a small group of Redshank, Wigeon and Turnstone about. With Cormorants, shags and most of the common Gull species. The day carried on and the target site was checked periodically as the tide came in further but it wasn't looking good. Eventually a small group of c.30 Purple Sandpiper were spotted but refused to land in the right place for the net. Other notable birds were more Turnstone, Long-tailed Ducks, Cormorants (2 that were already ringed), Shags and Eiders. It was getting close to 15:00 now and the Purple Sandpipers or "Purps" were sitting on a rock not 10 metres from where we wanted them. A few last ditch attempts didn't bring us anymore luck and by now the weather was miserable. We packed up the nets and headed home whilst the Purps remained where they were, frustrating! But it was interesting to learn some more about what's involved in ringing and met some nice people.

Now to disappointing. On Monday 13th a trip had been planned to the Tollie Red Kite visitor centre a few miles up the road from my house. My girlfriend and her parents were also coming through from Inverness to visit the site and we were all looking forward to it. We arrived before feeding time and Red Kite numbers were starting to build with 6-7 seen at the same time although distant. A couple buzzards were also flying around. After hanging around for about an hour it was clear no-one was going to turn up to feed them so we decided to head home very disappointed. Good views of a Great Spotted Woodpecker made up for it a bit, my first of the year. Later on I contacted RSPB North Highland about what happened and they explained that the volunteer coming to feed the Red Kites that day had called in sick at the last minute, so we were just really unlucky.

Distant Red Kite
Male Chaffinch @ Tollie feeders

Last but not least, surprise. On Tuesday (14th) we headed to Landmark in Carrbridge for our Forest Recreation class at college. I had been there many times before when I was very young and it;s not quite so exciting when you are in your mid twenties and half of the attractions aren't even running. We strolled around whilst the lecturer pointed out "interesting" features. Towards the end of the morning we made our way up the old fire tower which allows you to look across above the canopy of the Scots Pine woodland and out to the surrounding landscape. My girlfriend spotted a Goldcrest flitting about my first of the year and I turned and said to her "You know, this would be perfect for spotting some Crossbills, being up above trees". We walked over to the otherside of the platform and I noticed a group of 6 birds and would you believe it they were Crossbills, a life tick for me. A unexpected nice surprise but also frustrating that I didn't have bins or camera with me as one of the males in particular was posing quite nicely. I tried to take a photo with my phone but, well, you can see how well that came out below.

Male Crossbill...honestly.
So quite an interesting few days of birding. During this I also found out that my application for residential volunteering for the RSPB was also accepted. I will be spending two weeks in August at Forsinard, can't wait!

Monday, 6 February 2012

Selkies and razors...

After catching up with some coursework last week I was able to go out for the day (6th). I was in the mood for a good long walk and any birds would be a bonus, but it actaully turned into a pretty good birding day. The weather was perfect, calm, clear and sunny but not as cold as last week. I decided to head over to the South side of the Black Isle, taking in Avoch, Fortrose and Rosemarkie.

I arrived in Avoch about 10:00 and parked at the harbour. I made my along the shore to the mouth of the Burn. Plenty of gulls, Herring, Great Black-backed and Common. Redshank, Wigeon, Curlew and Oystercatcher were present as were the corvids - Carrion Crow, Jackdaw and Rook. A pair of Mute Swans flew over head and landed in the burn. On the way back to the car a Rock Pipit was on the tideline.

Mute Swans
Rock Pipit
I then made my way round to Fortrose and Chanonry Point purposely driving past the school playing field as an Iceland Gull had been spotted there recently but no sign this morning. I parked at the point which was fairly quiet and started to make my way down the Rosemarkie side. Straight away off the point I could make out a group of auks but they were too far out for me to identify. There were also Herring and Great Black-backed gulls dotted about. Further on I could see several Cormorants fishing in the bay aswell as Red-breasted Mergansers. Getting closer to Rosemarkie beach and I spotted 2 Shag not far off-shore which were my first for the year. I had another go at identifying the auks but they were just too distant I did however pick out 2 Red-throated Divers.

Red-throated Diver
Carrion Crow eating something
I was now up to the busy part of Rosemarkie beach just after the burn. There was a crowd of people a couple hundred metres away but I couldn't make out what they were doing. Getting closer I realised there was a Grey Seal on the beach and it looked fairly young. There was already too many people so I decided to move on as to not stress it out even more. From here all the way to the end of the beach were more gulls, Cormorants, Red-breasted Mergansers and Oystercatchers. On top of the cliffs I caught a glimpse of a Buzzard and a Red kite. Before finding somewhere to sit for lunch a lone male Eider drifted past quite close.

Male Eider
After eating lunch I decided to make the long way back to the point and the car. I was facing into the sun now so I was walking with my head down and marching along. All of a sudden I caught something moving right in front of me that I would have stood on. It was a seal! Most likely the same one from earlier that had moved to a quieter spot. I had never been this close to a seal before and a strange feeling came over me and gazing into it's big intelligent eyes reminded me of reading about Selkies when I was in primary school. Again to me it looked like an immature Grey Seal but please feel free to correct me if I am wrong. I didn't hang around for long as a small crowd was starting to form again.

Grey Seal

I continued making my way back. I watched a Great Black-backed Gull devour a large looking fish and it reminded me of my trip to County Kerry last year when I watched one tackling a large crab on the Magahrees beach. Similar birds seen earlier were still present. A flock of Linnets where in the Gorse bushes at the top of the beach and sadly a dead Common Guillemot had been washed in. Almost half 3 now and I was back at the point, by now the tide was right out and there were Oystercatchers, Curlew and Redshank but more importantly auks, right close in to the shore. There was a small group of Common Guillemots and a group of one of my favourite birds, Razorbills, brilliant, both year ticks. There was 1st-winter and adult-winter birds. I had only seen Razorbills once before again in Ireland last year on the Skellig Islands in breeding plumage. I watched them til they were too far out and some Goldeneye and a Common Seal put in an appearance.

Adult-Winter Razorbill
Adult-winter Razorbill

Common Guillemot
Male Goldeneye
I walked the last hundred or so metres to the car and a small bird flew over and landed on the beach. It was a Pied Wagtail. But what the bird did was draw my attention to a shaded corner or the shore and I noticed a group of birds. Closer inspection revealed Ringed Plover, Turnstone and others mixed in that I wasn't sure of straight away. I moved even closer and I realised they were Knot, a life tick. I moved slowly into position for a photo when a woman who could clearly see me and what I was doing let her dog off which then ran into the birds and scared them all off. The plus side is that the flock of c.100 Knot then took to the air and performed their aerial acrobatics in close formation which looked amazing in the low sunlight.

So what started off as just a long walk turned into a good day of birding with 36 species seen, 4 year ticks and 1 life tick.

Ringed Plover
Knot - Calidris Canutus